Let­ter on racism a ‘sig­nif­i­cant step’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Skipp San­ders

The re­cent re­lease of Arch­bishop Wil­liam E. Lori’s pas­toral let­ter on racism, “The Jour­ney to Racial Jus­tice,” marks a sig­nif­i­cant step for Bal­ti­more’s Catholic com­mu­nity, and, let us hope, for Bal­ti­more City as a whole.

Two as­pects of the state­ment in par­tic­u­lar are note­wor­thy. First, the state­ment doesn’t sim­ply de­nounce racism. Im­por­tantly, it takes own­er­ship for the Catholic Church’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in this sin, go­ing all the way back to her early in­volve­ment in the in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery. By hon­estly ac­knowl­edg­ing this shame­ful past and its long-last­ing ef­fect on the church and so­ci­ety as a whole, the state­ment of­fers hope for un­der­stand­ing the roots of racial divi­sion that still plague us to­day.

Se­condly, the state­ment in­cludes very spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions for ac­tion. Those rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude a com­mit­ment to im­ple­ment­ing a se­ries of di­a­logues on racism through­out the Arch­dio­cese of Bal­ti­more; con­duct­ing a diver­sity in­ven­tory at ev­ery level of the arch­dio­cese; and work­ing to at­tract di­verse mem­bers of the clergy, arch­dioce­san, parish and school staff, and parish com­mu­ni­ties.

Im­por­tantly, the goal of all of th­ese ac­tions isn’t sim­ply di­a­logue and re­flec­tion. The goal is to lead the peo­ple of the Arch­dio­cese of Bal­ti­more, from its lead­ers to the peo­ple in the pews, to iden­tify and im­ple­ment the ac­tions needed to change the per­sonal and in­sti­tu­tional bi­ases that al­low racism to ex­ist in our com­mu­nity.

I com­mend the lead­er­ship of my church for hav­ing the courage to ad­mit our past wrong­do­ing and our con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in per­sonal and in­sti­tu­tional racism, and for com­mit­ting to con­crete ac­tion to bring about change.

I had the priv­i­lege of serv­ing as a mem­ber of the statewide task force ap­pointed by Mary­land’s Catholic bish­ops to as­sist in draft­ing the state­ment. From that ex­pe­ri­ence, I am well aware of the chal­lenges the church faces as we ad­dress the is­sue of racism, par­tic­u­larly at a time when our church’s lead­ers are fac­ing a se­ri­ous cri­sis of faith in their moral author­ity.

No doubt many within and with­out our com­mu­nity will say we should fo­cus our ef­forts on other is­sues, most es­pe­cially the con­tin­u­ing cri­sis of the church’s past han­dling of child sex­ual abuse. Many in our com­mu­nity will in­sist there is no need to ex­am­ine their own or their in­sti­tu­tion’s at­ti­tudes to­ward race. Many who have suf­fered the ef­fects of racism in our church will be skep­ti­cal that any­thing will re­ally change.

But at a time when we are wit­ness­ing in­ci­dents of racial ha­tred, anti-Semitism and in­tol­er­ance to­ward our im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties such as we have not seen in decades, the church is — laud­ably — re­fus­ing to re­main silent, and re­fus­ing to re­main idle. Th­ese lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tions of racism high­light what those of us in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity know all too well. De­spite the ad­vances our coun­try has made in erect­ing stronger le­gal pro­tec­tions against dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­sti­tu­tional racism is alive and well — in our eco­nomic, crim­i­nal jus­tice and ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems, in health care, em­ploy­ment and po­lit­i­cal en­fran­chise­ment. Nowhere is this fact more ev­i­dent than right here in Bal­ti­more City.

Talk­ing about race may be one of the most dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions we can have in this coun­try, and cer­tainly in our city. It will take a sus­tained ed­u­ca­tional ef­fort to open minds and hearts to the re­al­ity of what many see as our coun­try’s orig­i­nal sin, fol­lowed by spe­cific ac­tions to change this re­al­ity. But it is my hope — and prayer — that by own­ing and tak­ing ac­tion to ad­dress the is­sue of racism to­day, the church can help bring light for all, in Bal­ti­more City and be­yond, as we move for­ward on the jour­ney to racial jus­tice.

Skipp San­ders (usu­[email protected]) is the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Reginald F. Lewis Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture and for­merly served as deputy state su­per­in­ten­dent of the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

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